Monday, January 11, 2021

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Defensemen: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen

“Everyone has some inner power that awaits discovery.”
-- Richard Paul Evans

“Nick is a reliable modern-day defenseman who we feel can defend well and log valuable minutes for our club.  At 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

That is what Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said about defensemen Nick Jensen when he was obtained from the Detroit Red Wings with a 2019 fifth round draft pick for defenseman Madison Bowey and a 2020 second round draft pick in February 2019.

Almost three years later, Jensen has not borne a particularly heavy minutes burden (17:38 per game in 88 games with the Caps), and his personal shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 is underwater (49.7 percent.  And, his next level numbers are not especially impressive in his Capitals tenure.  He is not a particularly physical defensemen, but among the eight Caps defensemen dressing for at least 50 games over the last two seasons, he ranks seventh in credited hits per 60 minutes (3.09).  He also ranks seventh in blocked shots per 60 minutes (3.75).

Odd Jensen Fact… The Jensen trade in February 2019 resulted in prospect forward Aliaksei Protas being drafted by the Capitals.  Follow along.  The 2019 fifth round pick that came with Jensen in the trade was originally owned by the Buffalo Sabres. They traded that pick to Detroit for forward Scott Wilson in December 2017.  The Red Wings included this pick with Jensen in the trade to the Caps. On June 22, 2019, the Caps traded this pick and a fourth round pick in the 2019 draft to the New Jersey Devils for a third round pick (originally the property of the San Jose Sharks, a different story) that the Caps used to draft Protas.

Odd Jensen Fact II… Nick Jensen owns a streak of the sort no one wants.  He has gone 145 regular season games without a goal.  That is the longest streak of games played without a goal in the league entering the new season.  Without a goal since he potted a pair for the Detroit Red Wings in a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 2018, Jensen is still looking for his first goal with the Capitals.

Fearless’ Take…

His numbers do not impress, but getting ice time has not hurt Jensen.  In 17 games last season in which he skated at least 20 minutes, the Caps were 11-2-4.  And at least some engagement offensively helped.  That Caps were 8-0-1 in games in which Jensen recorded at least two shots on goal.

Cheerless’ Take…

Geez, cuz, you would think an NHL player would score goals more frequently by luck alone.  Since Jensen came into the league in 2016-2017, 674 players have dressed for at least 100 games.  Only 16 of them have a worse shooting percentage than Jensen (1.9), and no player in the league has matched him for sheer futility.  He is the only player in the league since 2016-2017 with more than 300 shots on goal (321) and a shooting percentage under 2.0 percent.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 300 career NHL games (he currently has 278)
  • 100 games with the Capitals (88)
  • 100 career penalty minutes (73)
  • 5,000 career minutes played (4,987)

The Big Question… Can the Capitals afford a second defenseman that poses no offensive threat?

Nick Jensen came into the league in 2016-2017.  Since then, he is tied for 30th among defensemen in games played without a goal.  Brenden Dillon tops that list with 304 games.  Jensen ranks 13th among those defensemen in games played without recording a point (229; Dillon is tied for second with 248 games).  With Michal Kempny on the shelf for much, if not all of the upcoming regular season due to an Achilles tendon injury, it is not clear how successful the Caps can be with a third of their defense on any given night posing little threat in the offensive zone. 

There are other ways to contribute – Jensen did average more than two minutes per game killing penalties last season (2:22, fourth most among defensemen), as did Dillon in his short stint with the Caps to end the season (2:40 in ten games, third among defensemen) – but this could be an issue for the Caps.

Both players represent substantial investments by the club.  Jensen was signed to a four-year/$10 million contract in February 2019; Jensen was signed to a four-year/$15.6 million deal last October.  Both are 30 years old, Jensen the older by less than two months.  If there is an odd-man out here, it would appear to be Jensen, a player who did not capture lightning in a bottle in the same way Michal Kempny did when he was obtained late in the 2017-2018 season, and a player with a contract that might be more attractive to other teams.  But Kempny’s absence upsets the apple cart here.  The Caps have assembled a cast of defensemen auditioning for third pair work this season, and Jensen, who is not among the recent acquisitions, is part of the third pair casting call.

In the end…

The scouting report at on Nick Jensen reads as follows:

  • Assets: Is a solid puck-moving defenseman with outstanding speed and good defensive instincts. Can produce decent offensive totals at lower levels, too.
  • Flaws: Doesn't have ideal size and strength for the National Hockey League game. Therefore, he can struggle when defending much bigger forwards.
  • Career potential: Speedy, puck-moving defenseman.

If you read between the lines through a lens with a cynical tint, you can see the holes – not likely to produce offense at higher levels (the NHL), not very physical, might struggle with more physical players in his own end.  He is not without skills, but one wonders if what we have seen over his season-plus in Washington is what he is.  If he has an “inner power” that merely awaits discovery, now would be the good time to discover it.

Projection: 48 games, 2-6-8, plus-1

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images